An Essential Tool: Laboratory Diagnostics

CDC Lab Inactive Samples

CDC laboratorian working with inactivated Ebola samples at the CDC field laboratory at ELWA 3, August 22, 2014. Photograph by Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, World Health Organization

Field Lab Tent

CDC Field laboratory located in a UNICEF tent near the ELWA 3 treatment facility operated by MSF, and supported by the WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. Photograph by Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, World Health Organization

Because it is hard to tell the difference between Ebola and other common infectious diseases such as malaria, Ebola can only be confirmed with laboratory diagnostics. Rapid and reliable lab testing for diagnosing suspected Ebola cases is central to controlling the disease. It is critical to patient care, to the initiation of contact tracing, and to the safe discharge of Ebola virus-free patients to their home communities.

When the Ebola outbreak in West Africa began in spring 2014, CDC’s laboratorians working in the Viral Special Pathogens Branch were well prepared with decades of experience in establishing and operating laboratories in low-resource settings. This includes setting up temporary “hot labs," where scientists wearing protective gear with powered air purifying respirators (PAPR) can work safely with patient samples.

Mobilizing Labs in West Africa

At the request of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, CDC supported laboratories in Liberia, along with the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. CDC has also been an active partner in WHO’s Emerging and Dangerous Pathogens Laboratory Network and Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, and during the Ebola epidemic collaborated with laboratories from the European Union to shorten the time needed to provide accurate diagnoses. 

4. The Role of Public Health in the Epidemic
An Essential Tool: Laboratory Diagnostics